Devil’s Gate is still open--with a giveaway for you
by Susan Page DavisA landmark for travelers on the Oregon Trail, Devil’s gate is a narrow cleft where the Sweetwater River flows between the granite rocks. It is close to Independence Rock, which was sometimes considered the halfway point.
|Devil's Gate at low water, 2013, by Wehwal, Creative Commons licenses
Wagon train leaders liked to camp at Independence Rock by July 4, knowing they should make it through to their destination before winter. Sometimes trains would pause a day or two at Independence Rock, and the travelers would do laundry, bake, and make an outing of going to view Devil’s Gate.
|Circled Wagon Trains at Independence Rock, with Devil's Gate in the distance, drawing by William Henry Jackson, circa 1870
At its base, the “gate” is too narrow for wagons to pass beside the river, so the trail bypassed it, but emigrants often hiked to see it. Many waded through the gap in the river or climbed the cleft ridge, known as the Sweetwater Rocks, and carved their names or initials. Bighorn sheep were seen climbing the rocks nearby in the mid-1800s.
The chasm is only 30 feet wide in the bottom, at its narrowest point. The cleft is about 1,500 feet long and 370 feet deep. At the top, the rocks are about 300 feet apart. It can be seen from about 15 miles away if you are coming from the east. From a distance, it appears as a slot in the ridge.
|Looking West from the rocks above Devil's Gate, showing the plains of the Sweetwater and the Oregon Trail; 1870 by William Henry Jackson
An Indian legend says a large beast with huge tusks tore the passage through the rock when pursued by hunters. Scientists, however, say the river carved it over time through the sedimentary rock. But it seems odd that the river ate through the rocks instead of flowing around them. The wagon road takes the flatter, easier route not far away.
Trading posts sprang up at Devil’s Gate and Independence Rock in the early 1850s, to cater to the emigrant trains. Travelers could find a few basic supplies there, and if they were lucky, trade worn-out animals for fresh stock. The earliest known photograph of this landmark was taken in 1858 by Samuel C. Mills.
|Mill's 1858 photo, public domain
As the wagon trains grew fewer, the cabins of the Devil’s Gate post were abandoned by 1856. The following winter, desperate members of the Mormon handcart parties found them during a severe blizzard and took shelter.
|photo by Ryan Reeder, 2004, Creative Commons Licenses
|Devil's Gate, by MPlark, Creative Commons Licenses
In one of my books, The Oregon Escort, the main characters visit Devil’s Gate. To enter the giveaway for the 3-novel series anthology, Wyoming Brides, leave a comment and include your contact information below. E-book readers may choose an e-book of The Oregon Escort instead.
Susan Page Davis is the author of more than sixty published novels. She’s always interested in the unusual happenings of the past. Her newest books The Seafaring Women of the Vera B. and The Cowboy’s Bride Collection, which was recently named to the Publisher’s Weekly Bestselling Religious Fiction List. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and also a winner of the Carol Award and the Will Rogers Medallion, and a finalist in the WILLA Awards and the More Than Magic Contest. Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com .